While the Masters ratings were down this year, the level of drama was high at Augusta National. At the center of it all was Sergio Garcia, who captured his first green jacket, beating out Justin Rose in a playoff hole and bouncing back from years of disappointing finishes in major championships.
Even this year, the road wasn’t easy for Garcia. He ended his Thursday round at 71, six shots off the lead of Charley Hoffman, who shot a heady 65. A few other golfers went low, including William McGirt, who put up the only other sub-70 first round score at 69. After Day Two, the tournament rules put the cut at +6.
Hoffman’s lead wouldn’t last, however, as the 40-year-old Californian shot 75, 72 and 78 Friday through Sunday en route to a finish that left him tied for 22nd with Jason Day and Phil Mickelson. It was the second best Masters result of his career, worse only than his 2015 9th place finish.
And what about Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, two of modern golf’s golden boys? For Spieth, a 69 on Friday and a 68 on Saturday weren’t enough to offset the twin Thursday and Sunday 75’s that ultimately doomed him to an 11th place finish. Spieth was in contention on Day Three, but similar problems to those he faced in 2016 hurt him again this year, as he quadruple-bogeyed the 15th hole to fall out of contention. McIlroy did just enough to stay within earshot of the leaders, but his final round 69 was ultimately too little, too late to make a run on the leaders.
A handful of others made a late push on Sunday, but fell short. Matt Kuchar, for example, fired a final round 67 to come home with fourth place and a six-figure paycheck, while 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel used his PXG set deftly to shoot back-to-back 68’s en route to a third place finish.
The 2017 Masters was a particular disappointment for a number of golfers, not just for Spieth and McIlory. World number one Dustin Johnson, coming into the tournament playing extremely well, suffered a freak injury and had to back out, while Ernie Els, in perhaps his final Masters, finished in last place with a score of twenty over par.
Maybe the most poignant and emotional part of the proceedings took place before the tournament even started. Hosting the first major tournament since Arnold Palmer’s passing, Augusta National wanted to honor the legendary golfer. Early Thursday morning, Club Chairman Billy Payne walked arm-in-arm with Palmer’s widow, Katherine, toward an empty chair, where he placed a green jacket, leaving no dry eye in the gallery. Before hitting the customary first tee shot, Jack Nicklaus inserted an additional tribute, pointing skyward to acknowledge his longtime friend.
Is the Masters a sign of good things to come for Garcia? Or will Spieth and his AP2s finally get back on track in major competition? With the U.S. Open coming to Erin Hills in June, we’ll soon see.